Homeless at the big house

Residents of Tent City and their allies take their protest to the steps of Parliament. Photo by Kelly Warden.

SETTING up tents under the noses of WA’s leaders, 30 of Perth’s homeless residents and allies brought the issue of poverty to the doorsteps of Parliament on Wednesday.

Indigenous outcry and political promises made by the newly appointed Opposition leader Zac Kirkup saturated the steps, as rough sleepers from East Perth’s ‘Tent City’ appealed for their human right to shelter. 

“I promise you there is nobody more passionate about making sure we look after people who find themselves without a home, than the Liberal Party,” Mr Kirkup said. 

“We will make sure in 108 days’ time, that we provide policies that look after each and every West Australian equally and recognise the disadvantage that you have.”

Socialist Alliance member Petrina Harvey, who joined the protestors, noted Mr Kirkup’s promise came with little detail, but praised him for addressing the crowd.

“I’ve been coming down to Parliament House in solidarity with Noongar people for years; it’s almost like every weekend sometimes we’re out here rallying… and this is the first time I have ever seen anybody from the Liberal party come down and express any sense of care.”

Meanwhile premier Mark McGowan and his communities department came under fire for  a “woefully inadequate” effort on  social housing over the last four years.

“What we have seen is a reduction in the amount of social housing,” north metropolitan Greens MLC Alison Xamon said. 

In June 2017 there were 44,087 social and community houses available, but it has dropped to 42,953 this year while 15,000 people still languish on the waiting list.

Fraud

Ms Xamon said despite the huge numbers on the list, the McGowan government was only promising to increase its social housing stock by about 2,500 in the next decade. Ms Xamon said the multi-million fraud committed by former department assistant director general Paul Whyte had been money slated for families in need. 

Demonstrators such as Daniel Garlett said while politicians talked, life on the street got tougher.

“They always come out this time of the year,” Mr Garlett said.

 “I was born and raised on the streets …there’s been no changes, it’s actually got a lot worser,”  the 46-year-old said.

He compared the government’s attempts at ending homelessness to fixing a bitumen road. 

“They’ll fix the surface, but they won’t fix the problem that lies underneath,” he said. 

“The underlying issues really need to be faced and met, and we need to hold governments accountable”.

Tent City resident Raymond spoke about the impact on Indigenous people as a result of their over-representation in WA’s prisons.

Criminal records

I got a criminal record before I even knew what a criminal was,” the 47-year-old said. 

“It’s a hard life to live like that when you’re a child; you’re a criminal before you even get a chance to get a license or anything, so how do you get a job, let alone a house?” 

In Australia, children can be convicted from the age of 10, and according to the Raise the Age Campaign, close to 600 children aged 10 to 13 were locked up in one year.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are disproportionately impacted, accounting for 70 per cent of these younger children as a result of differential treatment and the criminalisation of disadvantage,” a campaign report noted.

Domestic violence is a leading cause of homelessness for women in Australia, and once on the streets their safety is further compromised. 

One of the demonstrators, Felicia, said she’d been on the streets for 23 years and had been a victim of domestic violence “for a whole two years”.  

“I’m five month’s pregnant,” she said. 

“I’m trying to change my life for me and my family… all we just need is more support”.

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